Microsoft Expires XP and Office 2003

April 2014 will spell the official End of Support for Windows XP and Office 2003, two widely-installed products from Microsoft.  What this means for anyone using these products is simple – you won’t be getting any more updates for them, and eventually, newer programs won’t be designed to work with them.  Both of these packages will still work by themselves for as long as you wish to use them.

For Windows XP users, understand that new software you buy may NOT work with that Operating System – so it will eventually become an issue you have to deal with, if you plan to upgrade or install new software or hardware on your PC.  If the ONLY thing you’ll ever use the machine for, is to work with Office 2003 applications and the same printer you have now, no worries.  If you use it to browse the web, or if you get a new printer, or need the new Quickbooks…now you might have issues.

You have time to consider options – it won’t SWITCH OFF at midnight on April 14.

For most business users, or those not using a touch-screen device, an upgrade to Windows 7 is probably less jarring than Windows 8.  If you balk at paying Microsoft in excess of $300 for a version of Office 2010,  or $200+ for Office 2013 , you can either go the FREE Open Office route, or opt to buy the new Office 365 (the web based version requires an Internet connection to work costs $5 a month, while the one that installs the program to your PC is $12.50 per month.)

As with all software, we recommend a TRY BEFORE YOU BUY strategy – make sure you like the version you’re planning to buy, and that it will run well on your current machine.

Don Shadrake, CIO The Reserves Network

Working From The Cloud

 By Don Shadrake, CIO  the Reserves Network

There is a lot of buzz right now about working “in the cloud”  If you have a Yahoo, Gmail, or AOL account for email, or use web backups, or share pictures and updates on social media, you are in fact working in the cloud – you’re just borrowing resources on someone else’s hosting machinery.

Pushing your company resources to a cloud platform can make sense, especially where you have a large territory to cover, with lots of highly mobile employees.  It’s usually not a hard transition to make, and depending on needs, can be very cost effective.  The benefits can include quick setup of new offices and workers; reliable systems that aren’t affected by weather, disasters, or circuit outages; and 24/7 access to important information on laptops, tablets, or smartphones.

Before your company makes the leap, you just have to weigh options, costs, and your own requirements.  Some big ones:

          SECURITY – do I need to ensure all data is encrypted, including backups, to comply with regulatory or business requirements?  Does my security needs mean I CAN’T work from a shared host environment, where systems are shared by many companies?  How do I prevent, respond to any attempted breach of my security systems?

          BANDWIDTH AND REDUNDANT CONNECTIONS – how many people will be connecting to my system at one time?  Do I need to provide “failover” circuits so that an outage with a local carrier doesn’t affect anyone’s ability to get to my systems?  How much Bandwidth is sufficient for my needs?

          MANAGEMENT – if I have my own systems and servers, who is managing them day to day?  If I am in a HOSTED environment, what kind of support can I get from the Hosting organization, and during what hours?  Do I need equipment FAILOVER, so that if one server stops working, another automatically takes it place?

          SOFTWARE – do my systems speak cloud?  Can I migrate the programs we use to a cloud-based environment?  Is now the time to re-design how we work, to better support mobile devices?

Most local and national hosting companies can answer a lot of these questions, as they have years of experience with the things you want to consider.

My company has been “in the cloud” for many years now, I’d be happy to answer questions as well.  We’ve been very happy with the many advantages of cloud computing, and can’t imagine doing it any other way as we’ve grown and evolved.

Can someone help HP write driver software?

We’ve been doing technical support for almost 35 years, and have relied on HP Servers, PC’s and Printers with very little complaint.

Lately, however, we are experiencing a disconnect between printer hardware (excellent) and the software needed to make it perform (DRIVERS).

We work in environments that have Windows XP, Vista, 7, and Servers running 2003 and 2008.  We work with Terminal Server environments, too.  We realize that the computing environment is muddy – but I think HP needs to look at it’s driver software and do some re-thinking.

Some  examples –

A Color Laserjet, Duplex and Network features – less than one year old – the LOCAL Windows XP and Windows 7 drivers control the duplex feature just fine (gives us the “PRINT ON BOTH SIDES” option.)  HOWEVER – same printer, printing from our Windows 2008 R2 Server – NO SUCH OPTION, manual duplexing only (???)  We’ve confirmed that we do indeed have the absolute latest and greatest drivers direct from HP.

How about Driver CD’s that take over 45 minutes to install, because of all the added gadgets, toolboxes, monitors, and live update services they’ve grafted on?  I don’t know about YOU, but I don’t need to have my printer able to order it’s own toner, alert me to every page I print, or survey my recent choices of fonts (yes, I am exaggerating a little) – JUST PRINT MY FLYER!

My wish list:

– Drivers should be SIMPLE – leave the other tools as an available add on, but let me just load the driver, please?  I hate having to go back and uninstall components.

– Drivers should work THE SAME WAY on any platform – same options, buttons, etc.  We’re talking Operating Systems that have been in release for YEARS,  not days – you HAVE the programming API code to work with, folks.

– Drop the LIVE UPDATE / ORDER SUPPLIES components – should NOT be getting loaded automatically to install a printer – adds CPU drag, bandwidth drag, annoyance with CONSTANT pop-ups.

We’re to the point where we are SUBSTITUTING older hardware drivers for new equipment, to get drivers that do what we tell them without talking back, or limiting the functions we can use.  We shouldn’t need to be doing R&D to set up a network printer.

I realize some of these “improvements” are designed to help those who are less-than-PC-literate – and I’m OK with trying to make install software dummy-proof.  But at LEAST give us tech pros the option to get drivers that work without the extra baggage….and engineer your drivers so they work the same on all available platforms.

Let’s Talk about Cloud Computing

For anyone working from the Midwest today, we’re watching the landscape transform into Ice Station Zebra – the PERFECT time to talk about working from THE CLOUD.

First of all, a quick definition – cloud computing simply means you are working with resources that are based somewhere on the Public Internet – which in most network drawings is referred to as “THE CLOUD”. Maybe it’s because everyone used little lightning bolts to depict your Internet connections to the Public Network, or maybe drawing an actual network of thousands of servers, switches and routers seemed a bit daunting for the folks who had to come up with a network diagram. Anyways, we now call this collection of public networks that connects phones, computers, and any other “smart” devices THE CLOUD.

The cloud is actually bigger than the web – it’s the tangle of fiberoptic, cable, copper and wireless connections that make telephone, radio, cellular, computer and other communications work. When you connect to the cloud, you are riding this global network.

If you share information via social media sites like Facebook…if you share files with co-workers from a web server….you’re using the cloud. Companies have been taking advantage of this public network for years, but new tools have made it easier for users scattered across the planet to share information, create projects together, and communicate with a much wider audience than what they can reach in their local zip code, state…even country.

Using web pages, social media identities, and a variety of hosted sharing platforms (YouTube, Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, Terminal Servers, etc.) we can work from ANYWHERE, practically, and still connect to our co-workers, clients, friends and a host of potential partners / collaborators.

It’s WONDERFUL to be able to help our users across many states, from the comfort of my living room, when the snow is flying and travel is hazardous. We’ve built a network of servers that makes setting up for business almost anywhere a matter of days, not months. Our little piece of the cloud is working very nicely, even in the worst weather.

There ARE some issues with cloud computing that need to be considered – like, how reliable is your Internet connection when Mother Nature drops a hurricane, blizzard, or other natural disaster on you? You CAN flee the disaster and connect from higher ground….but sometimes, you don’t realize your connection is about to be cut. Sometimes, you’re going to be out of service for a while.

Second, having all your systems (computers, files, etc) in one section of the cloud – as in, perhaps, the basement of an office building near the lakefront – can mean that a catastrophic event (like the great Midwest power failure – or a flood) takes EVERYONE down, regardless of what the weather is like in THEIR zip code.

Last, when you share information from a public platform, you need to make sure it’s accurate and secure, and that the people you share it with know how to safeguard things like customer files, employee records, inside gossip – anything that should NEVER be made publicly available.

It’s a challenging environment to work in – which is why I love it (most days, anyways!) The flexibility, reach, and potential it brings my company is awesome, and we’re learning new ways to capitalize on these technologies as they evolve.